Paul Dabrowski, Synthego CEO (Noam Galai/Getty Images for TechCrunch)

Syn­thego adds $100M from RA, Welling­ton, 8VC in pur­suit of 'vir­tu­al­iz­ing bi­ol­o­gy'

The Pe­ter Thiel-backed, Jen­nifer Doud­na-ad­vised, SpaceX en­gi­neer-found­ed CRISPR plat­form com­pa­ny just added a new mega-round.

Syn­thego an­nounced $100 mil­lion in Se­ries D fund­ing led by Welling­ton Man­age­ment, RA Cap­i­tal Man­age­ment and 8VC. The com­pa­ny’s sec­ond $100 mil­lion-plus round since 2018, the new cash will help Syn­thego ad­vance its plat­form of CRISPR as­says, screens and en­gi­neered cell lines.

For sev­er­al years, they’ve been help­ing aca­d­e­m­ic re­searchers and com­pa­nies run tests and ex­per­i­ments that re­quire gene edit­ing, but CEO Paul Dabrows­ki said he wants to use their more re­cent and fu­ture fund­ing to push the com­pa­ny to a far more am­bi­tious goal, one that the for­mer SpaceX en­gi­neer couch­es in terms rem­i­nis­cent of an a16z blog post: “vir­tu­al­iz­ing bi­ol­o­gy.”

Main­ly, though, what Dabrows­ki means is that they’ll not on­ly pro­vide peo­ple with the tools to run CRISPR and cell ther­a­py ex­per­i­ments, but in many cas­es ful­ly run the ex­per­i­ments for them.

“This idea of vir­tu­al­iz­ing bi­ol­o­gy: In the tech world, you have cloud serv­er in­fra­struc­ture. Ama­zon Web Ser­vices is, like, a thing. You would nev­er try to build out your own in­fra­struc­ture of servers and main­tain all of that. You just swipe your cred­it card and go, and you fo­cus on your con­tent, your web­site, your me­dia,” he told End­points News. “And I fore­see this be­com­ing a re­al­i­ty prob­a­bly with­in the next 5-10 years, where sci­en­tists get to fo­cus on their do­main, their bi­ol­o­gy, their cell mod­els, their dis­ease ar­eas and they don’t have to wor­ry about the un­der­ly­ing dif­fi­cul­ties of do­ing the ex­per­i­men­tal work.”

Par­tial­ly that would mean just do­ing the work of a spe­cial­ized CRO. But Dabrows­ki says Syn­thego has been fo­cus­ing on stan­dard­iza­tion and scale, build­ing out pre­dictabil­i­ty soft­ware and an au­to­mat­ed fac­to­ry that would make them far more ef­fi­cient than com­pa­nies or re­searchers could be on their own. It’s a sim­i­lar goal to the one Vi­um, the dig­i­tal vi­var­i­um re­cent­ly pur­chased by Re­cur­sion, put forth for gen­er­al in vi­vo re­search.

“The ex­pec­ta­tion is that the turn­around times keep get­ting short­er, the suc­cess rates get high­er, and ul­ti­mate­ly this whole thing be­comes — you swipe your cred­it card and go,” he said.

Since the 2012 launch, Syn­thego has ex­pand­ed from large­ly pro­vid­ing CRISPR guide RNA to a suite of op­tions, most re­cent­ly adding ca­pa­bil­i­ties to ed­it iP­SC stem cells line on a large scale. Dur­ing the pan­dem­ic, they’ve aid­ed sev­er­al ef­forts, most no­tably an analy­sis of how SARS-CoV-2 pro­teins in­ter­act with hu­man ones that was lat­er pub­lished in Na­ture. And they pro­vid­ed guide RNAs for Sher­lock’s CRISPR-based di­ag­nos­tic.

Dabrows­ki said more tools are in the works and will be added in the near fu­ture. An IPO might be in the cards as well. For the ul­ti­mate goal, though, he said the com­pa­ny is pro­ceed­ing cau­tious­ly.

“This next step of, can I just do this whole ex­per­i­ment for you?” he said. “That’s a lit­tle bit of a leap, both in terms of trust and faith, so we need to make sure we ap­proach that cor­rect­ly.”

Secretary of health and human services Alex Azar speaking in the Rose Garden at the White House (Photo: AFP)

Trump’s HHS claims ab­solute au­thor­i­ty over the FDA, clear­ing path to a vac­cine EUA

The top career staff at the FDA have vowed not to let politics get in the way of science when looking at vaccine data this fall. But Alex Azar, who happens to be their boss’s boss, apparently won’t even give them a chance to stand in the way.

In a new memorandum issued Tuesday last week, the HHS chief stripped health agencies under his purview — including the FDA — of their rulemaking ability, asserting all such power “is reserved to the Secretary.” Sheila Kaplan of the New York Times first obtained and reported the details of the September 15 bulletin.

Dan Skovronsky, Eli Lilly CSO

UP­DAT­ED: An­a­lysts are quick to pan Eli Lil­ly's puz­zling first cut of pos­i­tive clin­i­cal da­ta for its Covid-19 an­ti­body

Eli Lilly spotlighted a success for one of 3 doses of their closely-watched Covid-19 antibody drug Wednesday morning. But analysts quickly highlighted some obvious anomalies that could come back to haunt the pharma giant as it looks for an emergency use authorization to launch marketing efforts.

The pharma giant reported that LY-CoV555, developed in collaboration with AbCellera, significantly reduced the rate of hospitalization among patients who were treated with the antibody. The drug arm of the study had a 1.7% hospitalization rate, compared to 6% in the control group, marking a 72% drop in risk.

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Eli Lilly CSO Dan Skovronsky (file photo)

#ES­MO20: Eli Lil­ly shows off the da­ta for its Verzenio suc­cess. Was it worth $18 bil­lion?

The press release alone, devoid of any number except for the size of the trial, added nearly $20 billion to Eli Lilly’s market cap back in June. Now investors and oncologists will get to see if the data live up to the hype.

On Sunday at ESMO, Eli Lilly announced the full results for its Phase III MonarchE trial of Verzenio, showing that across over 5,000 women who had had HR+, HER2- breast cancer, the drug reduced the odds of recurrence by 25%. That meant 7.8% of the patients on the drug arm saw their cancers return within 2 years, compared with 11.3% on the placebo arm.

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Greg Friberg (File photo)

#ES­MO20: Am­gen team nails down sol­id ear­ly ev­i­dence of AMG 510’s po­ten­tial for NSCLC, un­lock­ing the door to a wave of KRAS pro­grams

The first time I sat down with Amgen’s Greg Friberg to talk about the pharma giant’s KRAS G12C program for sotorasib (AMG 510) at ASCO a little more than a year ago, there was high excitement about the first glimpse of efficacy from their Phase I study, with 5 of 10 evaluable non-small cell lung cancer patients demonstrating a response to the drug.

After decades of failure targeting KRAS, sotorasib offered the first positive look at a new approach that promised to open a door to a whole new approach by targeting a particular mutation to a big target that had remained “undruggable” for decades.

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#ES­MO20: Out to beat Tagris­so, J&J touts 100% ORR for EGFR bis­pe­cif­ic/TKI com­bo — fu­el­ing a quick leap to PhI­II

J&J’s one-two punch on EGFR-mutant non-small cell lung cancer has turned up some promising — although decidedly early — results, fueling the idea that there’s yet room to one up on third-generation tyrosine kinase inhibitors.

Twenty out of 20 advanced NSCLC patients had a response after taking a combination of an in-house TKI dubbed lazertinib and amivantamab, a bispecific antibody targeting both EGFR and cMET engineered on partner Genmab’s platform, J&J reported at ESMO. All were treatment-naïve, and none has seen their cancer progress at a median follow-up of seven months.

#ES­MO20: As­traZeneca aims to spur PRO­found shift in prostate can­cer treat­ment with Lyn­parza OS da­ta

AstraZeneca has unveiled the final, mature overall survival data that cemented Lynparza’s first approval in prostate cancer approval — touting its lead against rivals with the only PARP inhibitor to have demonstrated such benefit.

But getting the Merck-partnered drug to the right patients remains a challenge, something the companies are hoping to change with the new data cut.

The OS numbers on the subgroup with BRCA1/2 or ATM-mutated metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer are similar to the first look on offer when the FDA expanded the label in May: Lynparza reduced the risk of death by 31% versus Xtandi and Zytiga. Patients on Lynparza lived a median of 19.1 months, compared to 14.7 months for the anti-androgen therapies (p = 0.0175).

Exelixis CEO Michael Morrissey (file photo)

#ES­MO20: Look out Mer­ck. Bris­tol My­ers and Ex­elix­is stake out their com­bo’s claim to best-in-class sta­tus for front­line kid­ney can­cer

Now that the PD-(L)1 checkpoints are deeply entrenched in the oncology market, it’s time to welcome a wave of combination therapies — beyond chemo — looking to extend their benefit to larger numbers of patients. Bristol Myers Squibb ($BMY} and Exelixis {EXEL} are close to the front of that line.

Today at ESMO the collaborators pulled the curtain back on some stellar data for their combination of Opdivo (the PD-1) and Cabometyx (the TKI), marking a significant advance for the blockbuster Bristol Myers franchise while offering a big leg up for the team at Exelixis.

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Donald Trump and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, before boarding Marine One (Getty Images)

Pric­ing deal col­laps­es over Big Phar­ma's re­fusal to is­sue $100 'cash card­s' be­fore the elec­tion — re­port

Late in August, as negotiations on a pricing deal with President Trump reached a boiling point, PhRMA president Stephen Ubl sent an email update to the 34 biopharma chiefs that sit on his board. He wrote that if the industry did not agree to pay for a $100 “cash card” sent to seniors before November, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows was going to tell the news media Big Pharma was refusing to “share the savings” with the elderly — and that all of the blame for failed drug pricing negotiations would lie squarely on the industry.

#ES­MO20: It’s not just Keytru­da any­more — Mer­ck spot­lights 3 top ear­ly-stage can­cer drugs

Any $12 billion megablockbuster in the portfolio tends to overshadow everything else in the pipeline. Which is something Merck can tell you a little bit about.

Keytruda not only dominates the PD-(L)1 field, it looms over everything Merck does, to the point some analysts wonder if Merck is a one-trick pony.

There’s no shortage of Keytruda data on display at ESMO this weekend, but now the focus is shifting to the future role of new drugs and combos in maintaining that lead position for years to come. And the pharma giant has a special focus for 3 early-stage efforts where Roger Perlmutter’s oncology team is placing some big bets.

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